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Book Review

Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation

Buck argues that the charge of “acting white” is a bitter and unintended consequence of the traumatic and often unthinking way our schools were integrated. The impact of this phenomenon on the school success of black students from every socioeconomic background is significant and corrosive.
He argues that although desegregation was necessary and right for the nation, the way it was implemented often devastated individual black children and communities. Black schools that had been centers of their communities were abruptly destroyed. Black teachers and principals who had insisted upon academic excellence and who had nurtured and mentored students were often fired or demoted. Black students who had led extracurricular clubs, played on teams, acted in plays, and campaigned for student government lost opportunities to lead or participate. In newly integrated schools across the South, black students were often met with blatant hostility from their white peers and from white teachers uninterested in their success. Academic tracking of students by ability was often used cynically to separate black and white students, with honors classes reserved for white and slower classes populated by blacks, setting patterns that persist today.
Thrust into a hostile educational and social environment with little expectation of academic success, significant numbers of black students began for the first time in America’s history to see education as the province of whites. Buck argues that the alienation of many black students from our educational system that began with traumatic integration is part of the explanation for the persistent achievement gap between black and white students. As long as black students pay a high price for academic achievement and view academic success as in conflict with black identity, Buck argues, the gap will persist.